Guest Post – Trying to Get Therapy: Asking Questions Beyond “How Long Have You Been Practicing?”
A guest post by Chihaya:
If you’re thinking about trying to get therapy, I recommend Gruntled and Hinged’s guide as a starting point. I want to add to this some scripts for asking sensitive questions and ending therapy if it turns out it’s not a good match.
I’m writing this because I tried to go talk to a professional counselor recently, and ended up having the therapist tell me that the Christian god is still there for me even though I’m mad at him and people taught me the Wrong Christianity™. (Where I live, in the land of thousands of little independent Baptist-flavor churches, every church but the one the person speaking goes to is the Wrong Christianity.)
I’m an atheist. I told them I am an atheist. I did not ask for faith-based counseling, and this person had told me just a few minutes earlier that they did client-centered counseling and I was safe in their office. Bringing in their religion was not respectful or client-centered or safe for me. I’m glad I found this out the first session so I didn’t waste any more time and money, but I was also upset and even more stressed out.
When you need help, it’s hard enough just to make an appointment. If you don’t like talking to people, it’s even harder to call ahead and ask to speak to/meet with a person in a not-yet-formal-appointment and ask them questions about how they practice. For me, I couldn’t think of a way to say “I’m an atheist and if you are a Christian this is a dealbreaker because I cannot trust you not to witness/proselytize at me because my problem intersects things of which Christians are notoriously hateful and judgy so are you a Christian?”* without forcing the issue so that I couldn’t trust them regardless. So I just made an appointment with the one counselor in the area who took my insurance and went.
It did not go well.
Setup and Scripts
Asking questions that are sensitive and important to you before paying for an appointment was not at all a part of the making-an-appointment process I went through. So you’ll probably have to ask specially. For me, I think the list when I first called should have been:
- Hi, I’m looking for a therapist. Are you accepting new patients?
- Do you accept [my insurance]?
- Could I speak for 5 minutes or email with the therapists that accept [my insurance] (it may not be all of them) to get a feel for if we can work together? (You’ll probably have to call again later; don’t expect that the therapists will be free right when you call.)
I would expect some hesitation and pushback, especially if you are female-presenting. Stay polite. You can say “all right, thank you, I will look elsewhere” if they say definitely no. If you can afford to write off the cost of one appointment, you can make an appointment and ask your questions then. If your hands and voice shake, that’s okay. Mine shake, too.
Once I made it through that step, here are the questions I should have asked. They are adapted directly from Dr. Keely Kolmes guide to choosing kink aware practicioners, which an internet friend sent me when I was venting after the fact.
- Are you familiar with atheism? What are your beliefs about it?
- Is your practice atheist friendly?
- How many atheist clients have you seen?
Repeat or substitute with LGBTQ or kink or sex-positivity or feminism or enthusiastic consent or whatever issue you’re worried about. If they avoid the questions, answer with the careful fluff that characterizes sales pitches, or just make you uncomfortable, it’s okay to keep looking for someone else. You’re making yourself vulnerable to a therapist, and if they don’t respect you they can make the problem worse. For me, online searching has been much more effective at finding help and answers than real-life people. And by “much more effective,” out of the last 5 times I’ve been to see someone about health, mental or physical, 3 times the real-life person’s solution was useless to actually harmful, once helpful for immediate care but unhelpful for finding answers, and only once truly helpful. 1 out of 5 licensed professionals. That’s pretty terrible. I hope your personal statistics are much, much better, but if they’re not, you’re not alone.
So what to do if you go to a therapy session, but things don’t go well and you don’t want to go back?
I started with a reality check from internet friends I trusted, to try to make sure I wasn’t just running away from difficult and painful things in my life. But in writing out what happened, and then talking to them, I decided that yes, I could and should quit on this therapist.
I tried ghosting: I canceled my next appointment, requested the return of some journal pages by mail (the receptionist said they would do it that day), and swept that afternoon of my life under a rug. But after two weeks there had been nothing in the mail, and then the therapist called me, and it turned out they hadn’t mailed those pages back, after saying they would! I was furious and hung up on the therapist and was freezingly, politely angry to the receptionist, which seemed to work but just in case I called again and used the words another poster on the Friends of Captain Awkward forums gave me:
“I’m terminating my therapy here and therefore request the return of the journal pages I left behind.”
The receptionist (a different one this time) used an acronym code I didn’t quite catch, but I just repeated that yes, I’m terminating my therapy here, can you please mail the pages back today? and I got back the pages and the therapist hasn’t called me again.
I hope these scripts help.
*I live in the “Bible Belt” of the U.S.A. In this culture, Christians are expected to talk about their religion, and to try to convert people to their religion, everywhere and at all times, and the law will usually look the other way. If you live in a place where such a therapist would lose their license in short order, that’s great for you and your people and your government! But that is not where I live.
Featured image credit: JD Hancock via Flickr
In an ancient library with great vaulted roof beams and high windows through which the cold creeps, close before an electrical outlet with a computer and a cat, you may find Chihaya pretending to scribble for Coffeefied Operafied Fluffified Beglittered blog. More often, though, she sews, plays computer games, and mops the floor. She will talk about math at the drop of a hat, but not many people wear hats these days.